What God Doesn't Want
September 15, 2022 | Kevin Perry
One of the most "withward" activities of the church is singing! It is the joy and privilege of the gathered church as prescribed by God that we sing to him, to one another, and to our own hearts in worship. The songs we sing together often challenge our hearts and minds as much as they express them.
“What a Beautiful Name It Is” by Ben Fielding and Brooke Ligertwood checks all the boxes for use in the gathered worship of the church. Substantive and emotive lyrics with gorgeous melodies, all while remaining singable with memorable truths for congregations. But there is one little line that has made many people do a theological double-take:
You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down.
Even though the song is many years old now, I still observe fresh, wide-eyed puzzlement over this line both personally and in the online world. On the other side of the spectrum however, there are many people who see it as one of the most power packed lines in the song. Count me as one of the latter! I want to highlight three things that jump out at me that help sort out what this lyric says as I sing it.
1) It speaks of God’s want, not God’s need.
Think about this statement: I do not want to go the rest of my life without coffee. This statement affirms that I am going to have some coffee at some point in my future. I could survive without it, so in that sense I don’t need it. But I can assure you I want some, therefore I will drink it. Probably a lot of it. Now, this is not a flawless illustration to be sure as I am 49 years old and have a six year old. There are days I truly want AND need coffee.
Because the line in the song is stated in the negative sense, it may be that our ears are tempted to take it as saying, “God was so lonely and needy in heaven by himself that he had to have us there.” Of course that would be silly, untrue and no one in their right mind would profess that. God needs nothing. God is fully satisfied in Himself and necessitates nothing outside himself.
But the lyric plainly does not say anything about God’s neediness. “Not wanting heaven without us” ultimately affirms that God wants heaven with us. A heaven without His image bearing people is not something God wanted. If He did want nothing but himself there, you better believe that is how things would be and God would be none the lesser for it. This lyric is about what God wants.
Here are a few more things we know God doesn’t want, that have nothing to do with His need:
- God doesn’t want to rule and reign this world on his own. (Genesis 1:28, Revelation 5:9–10, 22:5)
- God doesn’t want to bring about His redemptive plans and purposes on his own (Genesis 12:1–3, Exodus 19:5–6)
- God doesn’t want to spread the good news of the gospel on His own (Romans 10:15)
He does not need to do any of this. He wants to. Out of His loving, self-giving, gracious and merciful nature He wants to “share the love” with His image bearers. God so loved...and perfect love has nothing to do with the need of the lover.
2. The Jeffersons may have moved on up….but heaven moves on down.
The english word “heaven” in the bible sometimes refers to the sky or to the cosmos, but this is not the concept of heaven in the song. The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines heaven as the “space where God and various spiritual beings reside.” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary says it is simply “the dwelling place of God.”
Heaven is where God lives. And here is the cosmos-changing truth that this lyric sings about: God wants to live with us. Is that a controversial thought? That doesn’t seem that outlandish for a Savior called Emmanuel, right? Dr. Glenn Kreider’s helpful book, God With Us says it so well:
"In the culmination of his plan of redemption in the eschatological state, God does not take his creatures to be with Him; rather, He moves into their world. Rather than taking us to be with him in heaven, God will bring heaven to earth. The Creator will move into our neighborhood."
You could say we go from singing, “What a beautiful name it is” to “what a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Hallowed be His name, His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven was what Jesus prayed. Our Earth home doesn’t get trashed so we go up to heaven….Earth gets made new so that heaven can come down to it. The mission is not, “there goes the neighborhood” but rather “here comes the heavenly neighborhood.”
3. This was always the plan.
From the beginning to the end of the biblical story the plan was always for God to dwell with His people. This is what God wanted. This is what the redemption of man and restoration of all of creation in Jesus Christ brings about.
- I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. Exodus 29:45–46
- Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory — the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. John 1:14
- And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. Revelation 21:3
God visited Adam and walked with Him in the cool of the day. But when all is made new and sin is disposed of once and for all God will do more than just walk. He will dwell forever with his people by the light of the Son—the Son whom John still sees in his apocalyptic vision as the Lamb who “takes away the sins of the world.” The Lamb who made way for those who were never going to make it up to heaven on their own. We needed a Lamb. Sally Lloyd Jones in the tower of Babel chapter of The Jesus Storybook Bible says it so beautifully:
"You see, God knew, however high they reached, however hard they tried, people could never get back to heaven by themselves. People didn’t need a staircase; they needed a Rescuer. Because the way back to heaven wasn’t a staircase; it was a person. People could never reach up to heaven, so heaven would have to come down to them. And one day it would."
God gets what He has always wanted. The Rescuer coming down so that the undeserving and those who should be dead will instead dwell with the Divine. That was the plan all along. That is our beautiful God who would want to do that.